The Harvard Review of Philosophy


published on June 28, 2017

Moises Vaca

The Contractualist Dilemma

In moral and political philosophy many contractualist views appeal to hypothetical consent when justifying their proposed normative contents. In this paper I argue that all of them fail. In particular, I defend three claims. First, I consider and develop what I call the common objection to contractualism: that the stipulation of a hypothetical consent adds nothing to the independent reasons offered in contractualist procedures in favor of the normative content in question. Second, I hold that this objection gives rise to what I call the contractualist dilemma. Third, in light of the dilemma, I argue that contractualism should be understood in a non-justificatory way. These three claims might sound familiar to readers versed on the contractualist tradition. It is striking, however, how many contemporary authors continue to defend contractualism as a method of justification despite these arguments. This paper is thus a strong invitation to finally abandon the justificatory interpretation of this view.